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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lefroy Brydges convergent evidence supporting my prior claim re Jane Austen's Great Chasms and Dirty Bottoms

Anielka Briggs's post today in Janeites and Austen-L claiming that Jane Austen's 1808 poem about Madam Lefroy was a parody of an 1806 eulogizing poem by her brother Samuel Egerton Brydges is very interesting.

Anielka was, I believe, not entirely unaware that nearly three months ago, I posted in these groups and in my blog a message entitled "Jane Austen's Great Chasms and Dirty Bottoms"... which I addressed several subjects, with the third and final section thereof being my own claim that such 1808 poem written by Jane Austen and dedicated to Madam Lefroy, was a mock elegy, meant to mock, rather than honor, the memory of Madam Lefroy. I did not base my claim on Samuel Egerton Brydges's poem to his sister, because I was entirely unaware of it prior to Anielka's bringing it forward today. Rather, I based my earlier claim on the covert scatalogical subtext contained in the overt allusion in JA's 1808 poem to Hamilton's (then) famous eulogy of the recently deceased Samuel Johnson. My above post gives all the details of my argument.

At the end of that post, after analyzing the evidence, I explained as follows:

"So we see JA, in the aggregate of these two passages [in her 1808 poem], unmistakably winking at Hamilton’s eulogizing of Johnson via great chasms being filled up, you don’t have to be Groucho Marx to realize that there’s a sexual joke going on here. I will leave to each of you the decision of what to make of JA putting such innuendo into a eulogy for a dead friend, and move on to the final stage of my argument, which is that, lurking BEHIND (forgive me, I could not resist) all of the above is, of course the most infamous sexual pun in all of JA’s published novels: “Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”
That last line takes on startling new significance, when you take into account everything I have written, above, in this message, which established the Johnsonian patina that subliminally rests on the surface of Mansfield Park in particular.

It is precisely as if Jane Austen were speaking _specifically to Dr. Johnson_through the mouth of her own creation, Mary Crawford, and essentially teasing him about his priggish blockheadedness about puns, particularly sexual puns. Which, you will recall from the passages in Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare, was one of Johnson’s major complaints about Shakespeare’s writing.

So I see all of JA’s playing around with various versions of human hindquarters, as JA’s response to Samuel Johnson—and since Sir Thomas Bertram is, in many ways, a representation of Samuel Johnson,--both of them being, in a way, bona fide jackasses---Mary’s pun, combined with all the “dirty bottoms” in three of her novels, and also with the Johnsonian subtext of JA’s poem eulogizing Madam Lefroy, is the perfect way for JA to get that point across most powerfully."

Needless to say, I am very pleased to see Anielka bring forward this additional evidence of parody in JA's 1808 poem, because now we have the convergence of _two_ strong pieces of evidence _both_ pointing to a covertly mock eulogy.

But it's even more than a mere convergence, because SE Brydges did not merely pen an over the top deification of his sister. As Anielka's link also shows, as a preface to his poem, he also quoted at length from the newspaper notice of Madam Lefroy's death that ran in the Hampshire newspaper right after her death, which included the following tidbit (which surely had been written by him himself at that earlier point):

"But it is not only to near relations and friends, that her loss is irreparable, she has left a chasm in society, which there is no second to fill."

So there you see again the "chasm" in "society" which JA not only winked at in her 1808 poem, but also included in several places in Mansfield Park!

And, as my Dec. 2010 post also detailed, that is the very language about chasms needing filling which Hamilton famously used in his eulogy to Johnson!

Which means--after connecting all the dots---that Brydges, pathetic plagiarist that he was, stole from Hamilton's eulogy to Johnson without acknowledging that he was doing so! And what matters most to Janeites is that JA's _explicit_ reference to Hamilton and Johnson in _her_ poem is her way of pointing out Brydges's plagiarism, and of letting the knowing reader of her poem know that _she_ was well aware of Brydges's literary shenanigans, and also that her parody is therefore a _double_ parody, both exposing Brydges's blundering literary theft, but also making a sophisticated "bottom" joke on the whole shebang.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I was confident that Anielka was aware of my above-quoted Dec. 2010 post, not only because it would be an odd coincidence for two startling new claims about JA's 1808 poem as a covert parody to appear independently of each other within a matter of months, but also because Anielka also wrote "....whilst I think the criticisms of pomposity levelled at Mary Martha Sherwood's father, The Rev. Butt and James Stanier Clarke are occasionally unmerited, I do think Sir S.E.B. has more than a touch of conceit."

For those who follow my postings, she of course was implicitly referring to my own very recent claims of pomposity and worse on the part of the aptly named Rev. Butt....

..and also to my less recent but repeated claims about James Stanier Clarke... (one of many in which I talk about Clarke)

I think JA saw Butt, Clarke and Brydges as a kind of trilogy of real life pompous literary buffoons, all of them having richly earned the parodies she lavished on them.

But they were lightweights, small fry, not worthy of more than passing attention in JA's novels. Behind them, and beneath it all, was JA's much more complex and thematically significant skewering of the "whale", the much more imposing and complex personality of Samuel Johnson, in all her novels.

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